There is more than blood in crimes. They also help explain a city, with its social and political tensions. This is the proposal developed by the journalist Jordi Corominas in ‘La Ciudad Violenta’ (Peninsula, 2021), a route through the revolutionary and criminal history of Barcelona.
If someone expects from the book a Netflix ‘true crime’ on paper, with lurid details, they will be disappointed. The work is profusely documented. Corominas has searched the archives to provide the story with great precision and thus narrate the history of contemporary Barcelona based on violence, the same coin with two sides, crime and social conflict.
The author claims this genre, which he sees very present in Europe but less explored in our country. “We lack criminal culture, trying to reconstruct reality through crime. In Italy or France the shelves are full of this type of books and they have as much historical value as if the first democratic elections were addressed. As long as we do not assume that violence and Crime is part of history, we will continue to see it as a mere object of distraction, “says Corominas in conversation with this newspaper.
The book begins with the political violence of the ‘bullangues’ and the workers’ tensions of the 19th century but it continues to this day, and even dares to contribute a thesis on violence in the procés. The anarchist and violent past of Barcelona emerges in all its fullness in front of the “idyllic and postcard” city that, criticizes Corominas, the left still sells. “They have wanted to silence working-class Barcelona, you just have to look at the street map,” he adds.
The first part of the book pauses to analyze episodes such as the Tragic Setmana or the pistolerismo, when the bosses decided to respond to the workers’ advances (also achieved through violence) directly with gunshots. Corominas regrets that there are few works that deal with gun fighting in depth “when in another part of the world it would be the subject of films” and it would be much more rooted in popular culture.
Gunslingering, Corominas highlights, is a flow episode to define the modern city: “They want to blame the labor force for the violent component, but it is the bosses that attack the most. It is a reaction to the workers’ organization and the achievement of its minimum objectives.” .
The social conflict is interspersed with the criminal from the beginning of the book. Paradigmatic is the case of Enriqueta Martí, the misnamed ‘Vampira del Raval’. For Corominas it is no coincidence that, despite the fact that in reality only animal bones were found in her house, the press at the beginning of the century presented her as a pimp and murderer of children. The criminalization of a woman from the lumpenproletariat was a scapegoat to destabilize the female struggle that had begun to obtain its first victories.
More than half a century later, and with another woman as the protagonist, the hoaxes also intermingle with the truth in the murder of the prostitute Carmen Broto, which shocked postwar Barcelona. His case inspired the fiction of Juan Marsé in ‘If they tell you that I fell’, but the problem was, Corominas points out, that later “some journalists continued to tell a lie.”
“The elements of class in crime appear because Barcelona is a very stratified city,” explains Corominas. The geography of the city is also very present in the work, “Periphery crimes are moralizing crimes, they serve the press to say that the people of the periphery are bad; on the other hand, the crimes of the city center serve to create mystery “, highlights the author.
During the Franco regime, the dictatorship also abused hoaxes to link violence with immigration (something that has not gone out of style). The decade of the 70s, which marked the recovery of democracy, is one of those that most interests Corominas. Crimes “carried out by characters that seem to have come out of series or movies” are mixed with the return of political violence, with the Scala cases (a montage against anarchism that tried to re-flourish after being crushed by Francoism) or Bultó.
Nor does the author forget the story of yesterday. Corominas proposes a procés as a reaction of the leading Catalan nationalist class to the fear of losing the street after the explosion of the 15-M movement, achieving control of the mass that was marked out with speeches promising independence. “The day in Plaza Urquinaona is very metaphorical,” warns the journalist. “There are two demonstrations, a very violent one, a hundred meters apart but without contact between them, and those who are in the square are in a place from which they cannot leave.” Whoever was there can give a good account of it.